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Recently I’ve attempted to argue that in our discourse about homosexuality we need to return the discussion to the basic description of the acts themselves. I’ve suggested  that on two grounds, one fairly implicit, the other stated explicitly. Implicit in my previous posts was the assumption that the entire premise of homosexuality as social identity needs to be questioned. I didn’t develop this thought, but it was working in my description of how the public conversation about homosexuality turned so quickly and decisively. The more explicit statement was that we need to turn the conversation to the sex acts themselves because the success of the pro-homosexuality campaign depends on our not considering those things actively.

This week a couple of pieces make those points far more eloquently and  helpfully than I could  ever do.

Understanding the Perception and Rhetoric

The first comes from a New Yorker profile of Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case. At one point in the interview, the discussion turns toward rhetorical strategy and public perception. Here’s the relevant bit:

When selecting the ideal plaintiff, one experienced movement attorney told me, “Women are better than men, post-sexual is better than young.” From the Bible onward, two men having intercourse has been viewed as more disturbing to the social order than two women doing whatever it is that lesbians do. For people to embrace same-sex marriage, they needed to focus on the universal desire for romantic love and committed intimacy. Contemplating the difference between gay people and straight people made it acceptable to treat their relationships unequally, and the difference between homosexuality and heterosexuality is sexuality. Provided that Kaplan kept her client muzzled on the topic, Americans could imagine that Edie Windsor had aged out of carnality.

This interview accomplishes in a paragraph what I clumsily tried to illustrate by retelling that private public policy discussion from a decade ago. The ability to make homosexuality an accepted practice in the minds of the mainstream public depends upon a public presentation of homosexuality as effectively “aged  out of carnality.” Or to put it another way, it depends on dulling the conscience by avoiding those behaviors widely rejected by the public. Unless we understand that this is the intentional, active strategy of one side (and I don’t blame them one bit for making their best case; it’s what we all do!), then we won’t be engaged in an honest conversation. Those who oppose certain laws that enshrine homosexuality as “good and right” (like so-called “gay marriage”) will continue to joust the windmill of public perception rigged by a political presentation of the case. Here you have the rhetorical strategy described in the words of those supportive of gay rights. Opponents would do well to adjust accordingly.

Questioning the Very Construct of Homosexuality

Of course, the most fundamental form of this discussion requires we consider the concept of homosexuality itself. What was once known as sodomy and universally regarded a sin has become a “sexual orientation” considered a product of nature by many. Many people would like to call that debate “closed” and consider the matter settled firmly on the side of nature rather than nurture.

First Things posted a thoughtful and engaging piece today entitled, “Sexual Disorientation: The Trouble with Talking about ‘Gayness’.” Michael Hannon asks, “perhaps it is worth asking whether the premises themselves, and the formal framework in which they operate, should not be rejected wholesale. I wonder in particular whether employing the concept “gay people” with such nonchalance may communicate a familiarity and friendliness with this concept that is unmerited by its pedigree.” The entire piece is worth reading, but here are the salient points regarding how we think and talk about homosexuality.

1. “In his Histoire de la Sexualité, Michel Foucault argues that homosexuality is a social construct, and one constructed terribly recently at that.”

2. “Of course, that homosexuality is a social construct does not automatically render it evil or necessitate our rejection of it.”

3. “Still, while social constructs may be often benign, and may be sometimes even beneficial or necessary, there is good reason to doubt that sexual orientation is such a constructive construct.” Hannon elaborates:

First of all, the heterosexuality-homosexuality distinction is a construct that is dishonest about its identity as a construct, masquerading as it does as a natural categorization, applicable to all people in all times and places according to the typical objects of their sexual desires (albeit with perhaps a few more menu items on offer for the more politically correct categorizers). Claiming to be not simply an accidental nineteenth-century invention but a timeless truth about human sexual nature, this framework puts on airs, deceiving those who adopt its distinctions into believing that they are worth far more than they really are.

A second reason to doubt whether this concept is one that we Christians should readily employ is that its introduction into our sexual discourse has not noticeably increased the virtues—intellectual or moral—of those who utilize it. On the contrary, it has bred both intellectual obscurity and moral disarray. Our young people, for instance, now regularly find themselves agonizing over their sexual identity, navel-gazing in an attempt to discern their place in this allegedly natural framework of orientations. Such obsessions invite far more heat than light, and focus our already sexually excited adolescents on discerning extraneous dimensions of their own sexual makeup. This becomes thornier yet for those who discern in themselves a “homosexual orientation,” as they adopt an identity distinguished essentially by a set of genital sexual desires that cannot morally be fulfilled.

Again, the entire piece is worth reading and considering. Its most helpful virtue is its attempt to put us back on first things (appropriate for the magazine!), to help us ask the most basic questions lest we continue to find ourselves swept along by the winds of political spin, careening toward experiments and ideas contrary to historical facts, nature, and revelation.

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13 thoughts on “They Said It Far Better Than I Could”

  1. Esther says:

    Really good stuff, especially the quote about how children become sexually confused.

    If I might refine, I would say that Michael’s arguing more for the case that homosexuality shouldn’t be a topic of public discussion than that it’s a social construct. I do think there are people who can’t help having these thoughts and desires, so in that sense it is a “true” thing, at least for them. However, there are definitely others who are just “trying it,” because it’s the cool new thing, and as he mentioned, children who are now agonizedly contemplating their orientation because the way people talk about “gay-ness” makes them think it’s practically 50/50. This is all a product of the casual permeation of our society with conversations about sexual perversion. However, that’s not to say that sexual perversion can’t be “natural” in the sense of “fallen world natural” (obviously not “natural” in the sense of right, good, God-ordained, etc.). Just like people can be born with disabilities, other people are born with the temptation to sin in this way. Again, not all, but some.

  2. Steve says:

    In a wider cultural/political arena, a very deceptive strategy has been employed to change the way people think on this subject. I suggest 7 points commonly used to do this. If you read any argument on any level for gay marriage, you’ll see one or more of these points included, see:

  3. Danny Jang says:

    This line is telling “Unless we understand that this is the intentional, active strategy of one side (and I don’t blame them one bit for making their best case; it’s what we all do!)” Wow, we have the truth of the One True God who has revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ, and we cannot effectively argue or strategize in the public sphere like our opponents have been able to do. Have we become victims of comfort, complacency and mindless positivity only to get wooped?

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Danny,

      Yeah, it seems to me that as Christians we emphasize the “gentle as doves” but we don’t work very hard at “wise as serpents.” One understands why we lean toward gentleness, but we need a dose of shrewdness in order to make Christ known in some circumstances.


  4. AGT says:

    A non-traditional perspective: I had an affair with someone of the same sex. It was unusual because I am not gay and I am not really attracted to the same sex. What appealed to me about this woman was her spirit. I was attracted to her spirit. I loved her with my eyes as much as with my hands. I kissed her soul as much as her lips. It felt as natural as breathing…

    The whole thing came about rather unintentionally. I say that because I would never have allowed myself to get that close to a man. Societal blinders well tout the dangers of these associations so, I’m continually on guard with the opposite sex. With the same sex, one tends to relax. I considered her a friend. I knew she was bisexual but it didn’t really matter to me. It was not my business. As I became more engrossed in our conversations, my husband noticed a change in me that I did not realize in myself. He called me on it and outwardly accused me of what I was not physically engaged in. Emotionally, I guess I was slipping so full accusations were thrown. Feeling hurt, judged, accused and extremely angry, I willfully and intentionally dove into the pool and experienced life on the wrong side of divine justice. I knew while engaging that I am not gay. I knew that my preference is for men and that this affair would not last. But, I honestly didn’t care. She connected with me spiritually and emotionally in a way that my husband simply missed. When the affair ended, my husband forgave me; but, I was honestly prepared to face the consequences if he didn’t. I waded in that pool with my eyes wide open. The whole matter sensitized me to gay rights and wrongs in a way that I could have never conceived of prior to this occurrence.

    In summation, I would say that I chose to sin in an effort to feel more alive…and to rebel. I’m ordinarily the type of person who can always be relied upon to do the responsible thing, to take the high road and to bear the olive branch. I was honestly tired of being so consistent. In all, I don’t regret the affair because it was a powerful teaching tool for me. Prior to the affair, I believe I was trying to earn grace—to be perfect. To model my life as close to Jesus Christ as humanly possible. I wanted to be righteous more than I wanted to be human. I was fighting a losing battle. And I experienced this important life lesson by committing the unpardonable—by doing what I never believed myself capable of doing nor would ever have imagined. I was quite simply and honestly…human. And with a bowed head and heart, I returned to my husband and to God to ask for forgiveness. I likewise beseeched her forgiveness as I used her to fill a void in my own life. But then, she used me too. I wanted to be used. Such is the nature of the Fall. All is forgiven.

    As it relates to this debate, I for the first time felt the humanity, the vulnerability, the honesty, the judgment, the frailty and the damnation of loving someone deeply and emotionally who happened to have the same organs that I do. The organs seemed irrelevant, their function insignificant. I loved her spirit. She is a beautiful soul. And so is my husband. But, I felt the weight of judgment on my life. It was crushing! As I left my home at 1am one morning to walk around the neighborhood and beseech the heavens for deliverance, I knew I was walking on a dead end road. But, it was my walk to take, and my lesson to learn. I pray that through all of these debates, we can hold onto humanity, compassion and understanding. What raising children has taught me is that each man is responsible for his own soul. We can shine a light and point the way but each person chooses for themselves. We can’t shield people from the lure of vices. Likewise, we can’t know how a person’s feet hurt them unless we’ve walked in their shoes. Only God knows the heart and the hardship. He alone will judge the sinner, regardless of the organs they’re packing and how they’re engaging them. The truth of the matter is that divine love is a committed union of male and female as complementarily created by God and nature. Civil marriage is largely about possession and ownership of the material which will all best lost in the end—vanity of vanities. We live in an imperfect world. We embrace the separation of Church and state though sometimes the tax is burdensome. I say “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” It is for the Church to decide where it stands and you rightly challenge the Church to take a stand. Once the stance is declared, I pray that the Church wields its power and influence with the compassion of a sage and with the hand of love. Amen.

    Grace to you for ever challenging us to dare to speak truth, even when it’s inconvenient or smashes our own idols.

  5. Joseph says:

    I know that to despair is to deny God’s sovereign power, thus I remain hopeful that this is perhaps a tool to win back lost ground. But I am wondering if, perhaps, we have chosen the wrong field on which to fight? I think the batte over homosexuality was lost not because people do not know what it entails, but because our increasingly pornified culture made it seem less shocking. I happen to know couples who have engaged in many of the practices endorsed by both pornography and the homosexual community. Thus it seems, to someone who is already shaped by porn to be not exactly shocking or “icky.” It has become, rather, a choice on a broad sexual “menu.” One I might find repellant, but one a lot of people have tried and therefore find it difficult to condemn just because it happens with a member of the same sex. The problem then, in my mind is not the terms we use, but the hearts of those who should naturally oppose it have been so darkened they no longer know right from wrong, even at the visceral level. Much work to do…

  6. don sands says:

    “It is for the Church to decide where it stands and you rightly challenge the Church to take a stand.”-AGT

    The saints, those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, surely stand on the Word of God, which is the truth, the eternal truth.

    And this truth can be very deep and even difficult at times to know. But the essentials of God’s truth are clear, very crystal clear.
    And i praise and thank God for this. What a savior and Lord we have to give us the Bible. It is beyond belief.

    May the Church preach the truth of the sin of homosexuality, and fornication, as zealous as preach the sin of murder, and of stealing, and lying. Amen, help us Lord to take courage. Amen and so be it.

  7. Curt Day says:

    From what I have read here, the article you are citing is not worth reading. It carries with it the same mindset that we use to battle diseases. Just like some say we have to beat cancer, you are saying that we have to beat homosexuality. When we try to beat cancer, we note that we are fighting a malignant cell growth. So no wonder why we direct our aim at homosexuals whose sexual practices we find malignant as cancer cells.

    Certainly the Scriptures oppose homosexual sexual relations. And the Scriptures speak sternly and seriously to those who engage in such sexual relations. But we have a problem in communicating what the Scriptures say without making it a personal vendetta. We go overboard in how we speak against homosexuality and in describing the distance that actually exists between us and them. And when people hear us protesting too strongly and laying down the law, they rightly stand with the persecuted. And we should applaud when people stand with the persecuted simply because one of these days, we might be the ones who need others to stand with them. In addition, our own history tells us that persecution makes some groups grow.

    Homosexuality should not be our target. Rather, the lack of belief in the God of the Bible should be our concern and we should describe homosexuality as being one of the side effects that comes with this unbelief. Otherwise, we give evidence to those outside the faith that not only are we homophobic, but that there is a greater moral distance between us and homosexuals than what really exists.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Curt,

      Thanks for your comments, friend, and for your obvious concern for all. I share that concern. But we respectfully disagree on what’s taking place rhetorically on this issue and how at least some Christians in the public sphere should respond. But may the Lord’s will be done, even as He uses imperfect and sometimes disagreeing saints.

      The Lord bless and keep you,

      1. Curt Day says:

        I guess we do have differences. But I appreciate and respect the fact that you respond to notes more than anyone else.

  8. don sands says:

    “Otherwise, we give evidence to those outside the faith that not only are we homophobic, but that there is a greater moral distance between us and homosexuals than what really exists.”

    Some are self-righteous for sure. But to speak boldly , as you say the Bible does, about the sin homosexuality does not mean a person HAS to be self-righteous.

    How about people who molest children, and people who abort babies, and are really murderers? Just lump all sin together? No, we need to speak all the different truths that God sets out in His Word, for that is how the Spirit works on a sinner’s heart.

    I agree that the greatest of all sin is unbelief, but we need to talk specifically about sin, as the Bible does. Paul certainly did this, and it was because he loved sinners, and desired for them to be “convicted”. We hate the word conviction in our culture don’t we. God likes it though.

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Thabiti Anyabwile

Thabiti Anyabwile is a pastor for Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC and a council member of The Gospel Coalition.

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